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Extraordinary court-martial of former Wright-Patt commander set to begin after COVID delay

William Cooley stands at a podium during a news conference
Wesley Farnsworth
U.S. Air Force - DIGITAL
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley, the now former commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, delivers remarks during a 2019 news conference inside the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The court-martial of the former head of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is underway.

The proceeding was supposed to take place in January but was postponedto April "in part, due to COVID concerns among the trial participants," according to a military statement at the time.

Maj. Gen. William Cooley was removed from command Jan. 15, 2020, following allegations of sexual assault.

He could become the first-ever Air Force general officer to have his case adjudicated by court-martial. Maj. Gen. Donald L. Kaufman was arraigned as part of a court-martial in the early 1990s but the case was dismissed and never went to a jury. He was demoted and ended up retiring.

First thing Monday, Cooley requested his case be heard by military judge alone, similar to a bench trial in civilian courts. This was granted by the judge.

Should the trial have been heard by a jury, at least eight jurors would have been selected from a pool of military personal of higher ranking. In this case, that means all potential jurors would have to be three- or four-star generals or two-star generals who have served longer.

As WVXU previously reported, Cooley is charged with abusive sexual contact under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He is currently serving as the special assistant to the Commander of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patt.

Cooley allegedly kissed and touched a female victim during an off-duty incident in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Aug. 12, 2018. He has denied the accusations.

Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, reviewed the evidence and preferred the aforementioned charge with sexual assault specifications. That lead to a hearing similar to a civilian grand jury. A military judge determined the case should go before a general court-martial.

Updated: April 18, 2022 at 9:58 AM EDT
Updated to indicate the trial will be heard by military judge alone rather than a jury.
Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.